(In addition to
what is below, you may find it helpful to read
our Sin Seriously
chief reason why we do not see greater victory over particular sins is
that we do not really take them seriously.
James’ words are chilling:
“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and
sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15.)
the decades of pastoral ministry, I have grieved with hundreds of people
whose lives were ruined because they did not deal with inner desires.
They kidded themselves that their closet indulgences hurt no one.
But it wasn’t long before they acted on these drives with another
a season nothing much happened, because the devil sets his hooks carefully
before all hell breaks loose.
Then the poor souls were caught and exposed; their families were
torn apart; their finances wrecked—their reputations down the drain.
seen it over and over again, and it never fails to break my heart.
Through no fault of their own, little children’s lives are ripped
apart in the process.
No child goes through a divorce without being scarred, and only
Jesus can heal such deep wounds.
This is very close to home, because one of our own grandsons has
been profoundly impacted by his parents’ failure to keep their marriage
time I am involved in ministry in these types of situations, I become
keenly aware of my own potential for great evil, and I fly to the foot of
the cross for sanctifying succor, crying out to the Lord Jesus that he
would continue to purge out of me all remaining evil.
From Arminians to Calvinists, Pentecostals to cessationists;
ministers, elders, deacons; Sunday school teachers; people who apparently
walked with God for years—nobody is immune to moral failure and the
terrible public scandal that ensues. Recently
I read about a nationally known, conservative Presbyterian minister’s
entrapment by the police through an Internet “chat room,” where a
police officer posed as a thirteen year old female who was looking for
the poor man’s life is in ruins, his family humiliated, his career over—I
am sure the brother has taken his sin more seriously in the past few days
than in his whole life.
God’s Grace Seriously
our not taking our sin seriously, another reason that we do not see
greater victory over sin is that we doubt that God has promised us
sufficient grace to overcome besetting sins.
While we will not be free from all sin until we see the Lord, he
does grant real victory over sin this side of heaven.
On the one hand, the Bible does not promise us that we will have
complete victory over all sin until we go to be with Jesus:
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and
the truth is not in us.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word
is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, 10.)
Yet, on the other hand, the Bible affirms that by God’s grace we can see real victory over specific sins: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lust, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14. For a good summary of what the Bible teaches about the relationship of sin to the believer, one should read the Westminster Confession of Faith.) [i.]
our seeking deliverance from besetting sins such as drunkenness and sexual
lusts, we need to submit to God: “Submit therefore to God.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7.) Many
times particularly vile things come upon us because we are standing in
stubborn rebellion against God in another area:
“But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to
I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
(Psalm 81:11, 12.) If
I refuse to forgive another person, I may find myself given over to the
tormentors. (Matthew 18:34.) In my own life, I have great grief for the
mockery of certain religious phenomena in which I once engaged.
Isn’t King Saul a warning to us all?
Sin’s consequences are not simply experienced in the world to
come, they are often visited on us in the here and now: “If the
righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the
sinner!” (Proverbs 11:31.) If
I reject what I know to be God’s will in a matter, I may find myself
being given over to something quite base in order to teach me the
preciousness of communion with God. Proverbs 22:14 and Ecclesiastes 7:26
teach that God protects those who please him from sexual traps, but he
gives us over to vile affections when our ways displease him.
mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; he who is under the LORD’s wrath
will fall into it.” (Proverbs 22:14.)
find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a
trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.” (Ecclesiastes 7:26.)
must seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit by diligent use of the
biblical means of grace.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be
filled with the Spirit . . ..” (Ephesians 5:18.) It
is only as we are dominated by the Holy Spirit that we will manifest the
impress of the Lord Jesus.
Using God’s Tools for Godliness
Taking our sins seriously and laying hold of God’s promises of victory through unconditional, unreserved submission to his will, should lead us to biblical methods for overcoming sins. [ii.]
Central in the means of grace is the Word of God: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16.) Instead of being brainwashed with the septic seduction of this world, we need to inundate our minds with massive quantities of Holy Scripture, cleansing our thoughts “by the washing with water through the word.” (Ephesians 5:26.) Five minutes in a devotional book doesn’t cut through the sludge left by hours of being entertained by the world. And more important than the private reading of Scripture is regular participation in the life of the Church, sitting under the ministry of the Word. God is pleased to bless in a very special way the explanation of the meaning of the Bible, coupled with the application of that message to everyday life, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, focused on the Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over sin and death. (Romans 10:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 1:16-2:5; 1 Peter 1:23-25.) [iii.]
is not an end in itself; without seeking Christ himself, we may read
untold chapters of Scripture, listen to endless hours of sermons and say
prayers without limit, but we will be left empty and cold.
A person may have earned a doctorate in theology and be thoroughly
committed to the great truths of the Bible, and yet the Bible may do him
no more real good than it does for the superstitious person who, while
never having read the Bible, always carries one in his car as an amulet.
must pray for God’s help. Real
prayer is usually desperate.
Think of Jesus’ sweating as he prayed—earnestly beseeching his
Father for the grace to face the trials of the coming day. (Luke 22:44.) Consider
Paul’s example in Galatians 4:19:
“My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is
formed in you . . ..”
the remnants of our fallen nature should produce a painful travail and
sharpen our hatred of our own sins:
“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first
fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting
eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. And in the
same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to
pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings
too deep for words . . ..”
(Romans 8:23, 26.)
Three Roots of Temptation
temptations usually involve all three of our great enemies, more than
prayer is called for: “This wisdom is not that which comes down from
above, but is earthly, natural (literally, soulish), demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every
evil thing.” (James 3:15, 16.)
Virtually all temptations that we face involve these same three things:
the seduction of this world and its ungodly way of thinking, our own
sinful nature and the work of demons.
Virtually all temptations that we face involve these same three things: the seduction of this world and its ungodly way of thinking, our own sinful nature and the work of demons.
Authority of the Believer
The Lord Jesus never simply prayed about demonic things; he spoke to these rebellious spirits and commanded their obedience. His first century followers walked in his footsteps; they, too, took authority over demons by speaking to them, affirming the victory that is ours through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and his blood. (Matthew 4:1-11; 8:16; Luke 8:28-29; 9:42; Acts 16:16-18; 19:13-16.) [iv.] “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11.)
must learn that we can take authority over what we think; we need to
command evil to get out of our minds, and do so in faith that God has
given us the authority over our own minds through the blood and name of
the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Submit therefore to God.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7.) “Be
of sober spirit, be on the alert.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing
that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your
brethren who are in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8, 9.)
need constantly to remind ourselves that our competency is in the Lord
Jesus, and he has given us divinely powerful weapons: “For though we
walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons
of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the
destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty
thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every
thought captive to the obedience of Christ . . .. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
must confess our sins to others and not simply to God.
I am not speaking about Roman Catholic auricular confession; I am
talking about accountability, the kind of thing mentioned in James 5:16:
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one
another, so that you may be healed.
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
makes us accountable to others. Confession brings about healing.
Jesus Centered Pursuit of Holiness
driving force in our pursuit of holiness must be Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ righteousness is the ground of our being heard.
Jesus’ love for us encourages us to pray.
The glory of the Name of Jesus presses us. The goal of the
Christian life is not mere morality; it is complete conformity to the
restored image of God in the face of the Lord Jesus.
And the means of grace are not like spiritual vitamin pills that
contain a mysterious substance that helps us be better people:
the means of grace are paths to Jesus, a means of connecting and
communing with him.
For our diligent use of all the outward means of grace to do us
great and lasting good, they must bring us to the foot of the cross of the
Lord Jesus, where we can lose ourselves and find ourselves. They must
bring us to him as he is offered in the gospel.
and the Supper
we approach Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with this understanding, we
will be on solid, biblical ground. Baptism is a means to Christ. If it
does not lead us into a life of trust and devotion to Christ, of our
regularly turning from sin to him, we may well question if we have
experienced the reality of baptism after all.
Lord’s Supper really is a means of grace; it is a pathway to Jesus. When
we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death
until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26.) But the Supper is more than a
visual lecture: God’s Word is never an empty Word; the proclamation of
the Word of promise produces the reality of the promise. In the case of
the Supper: Christ himself, crucified, once for all time, on the cross,
for helpless sinners.
He is present in the Supper to nourish us by the work of the Holy
Spirit. Christ, who physically sits at the right hand of the Father in
heaven, from where he will physically come again, is present with us as
the Holy Spirit makes the reality of our already being seated in heavenly
places in Christ Jesus real to us. (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6; Hebrews 12:22-24.)
citizens of heaven who have already passed from death to life, as members
of Christ’s own Body, we are, even in this present darkness, more than
conquerors through him who loved us and gave up himself for us.
“Sin shall not be master over” us; we are “under grace.”
(In addition to what is above, you may find it helpful to read “Temptations, Accountability and the Roots of Sexual Sin.”)
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XIII “Of
Sanctification” is a useful summary of biblical truth.
They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a
new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified,
really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and
resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the
whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and
more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and
strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness,
without which no man shall see the Lord.
This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect
in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every
part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting
against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
“III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism mentions some of the tools
that God has given to help us in our war against sin:
“What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due
to us for sin?
escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us
faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all
the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of
“What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the
benefits of redemption?
“The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”
[iii.] “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14.)
‘And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”’ (Romans 10:15.)
‘(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.’ (1 Corinthians 1:16-2:5.)
‘Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.’ (1 Peter 1:23-25.)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed
us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,”
[v.] ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.’ (Matthew 4:1-11.)
“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” (Matthew 8:16.)
‘When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)’ (Luke 8:28-29.)
“While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.” (Luke 9:42.)
‘As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.’ (Acts 16:16-18.)
‘Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.’ (Acts 19:13-16.)